Inti Martínez-Alemán represents Latinos in civil and business law matters (litigation and transaction). In May 2016, he obtained his second...
Megan Zavieh is an attorney with a broad range of litigation experience now focusing on attorney defense in the...
Tom Martin is a legal bot advocate, lawyer, author and speaker. He is CEO and founder of LawDroid Ltd.,...
In this episode, we’re trying something a little different. We asked three TBD Law alumni to tell us their stories of overcoming personal challenges. First you’ll hear from Inti Martínez-Alemán about leaving Honduras after dozens of lawyers were murdered, his mother among them. Then you’ll hear Megan Zavieh talk about the challenges that come with building a law practice while moving frequently and having children. Finally, Tom Martin talks about recovering from the near-collapse of his firm and a year of family tragedies.
Inti Martínez-Alemán has a one-stop-shop law firm for Latinos and Latinas in Minnesota.
Megan Zavieh defends lawyers before the California State Bar.
Tom Martin created LawDroid, a chat bot that drafts and files California incorporations over Facebook Messenger.
Announcer: Welcome to the Lawyerist podcast with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Now, here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: I’m Aaron Street and this is episode 110 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re going to do something a little bit different. We just got back from our second national conference, TBD Law, and in this episode we’re going to hear from three TBD Law alumni, Inti Martínez-Alemán, Megan Zavieh and Tom Martin, about overcoming substantial personal challenges while building their law practices.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Ruby Receptionist and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby.
Aaron Street: What if we told you that having a new website designed for your law firm doesn’t have to suck? Spotlight Branding prides itself on great communication, on meeting deadlines and on getting results for their clients. Learn more at spotlightbranding.com/lawyerist.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by FreshBooks, which is ridiculously easy to use and packed with powerful features. Try it now at freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter “Lawyerist” in the how did you hear about us section.
Aaron Street: As I mentioned we just got back from TBD Law in St. Louis last night. I slept like shit because my brain was so busy trying to process all the cool things that we had talked about and learned and interesting people we had met and whatnot. I am not sure I’m even thinking totally straight at the moment. Not to mention the huge backlog of people I now need to reach out to and connect with and ideas I need to follow up on. Today’s to do list is a complete and total mess.
Sam Glover: Same.
Aaron Street: That said, it was just like the first TBD in August, it was an amazing couple of days with some really cool people, some of whom we’ve known for a long time and many of whom we just met and I’m so jazzed about the cool energy, the great ideas, the amazing people packed into a very short period of time.
Sam Glover: Yeah, I sat down this morning eager to get to work on the next meeting, which will be in late August for those who might be interested. We’ve already got people who’ve applied for it. We’ve got to sort through those and we’ve got some tweaking to do and planning and I can’t wait to do it again. This was so invigorating, I love doing it.
Aaron Street: As I process what happens there I’ve broken it down into three big buckets. One is this group envisioning of the future practice of law, of access to justice, about big audacious goal setting. The second is more fundamental about specific tools and tips and tactics for growing a successful firm and for holding each other accountable to implementing and executing on stuff now. Then the third theme is the new relationships and friendships of a whole bunch of really cool people from a variety of backgrounds who you wouldn’t meet anywhere else in the same place, that I’m sure many of which will be lifelong connections. It’s just so fun.
Sam Glover: One of the things that I like is Filament, which is our partner in TBD Law, works really hard to create an environment. It’s neat to see almost nobody opens a laptop on their table. I think the only person who had a laptop open for any length of time was Victor Lee from the ABA Journal who was there to cover the conference. People are paying attention, engaging and most people are checked out, they’re treating it almost like a working retreat and they’re checked in to TBD Law and they’re doing work.
On Monday night we asked people to come up with a big problem or address a topic and pitch us on a solution in the morning. We started at 7:00 after dinner and I went to bed at around 11:30 or so, and teams were sitting the hotel lobby working at some of the bars near the hotels and working on their problems. It’s really neat.
What I think is cool is lawyers are trained and built to get a ton of shit done, but ordinarily that’s spread out among dozens of different things that we all need to be doing every day, and when you somehow persuade a whole bunch of people, a whole bunch of lawyers, to put everything else aside and focus on one problem all night, people were showing up in the morning with business plans drawn up, with connections made. Some of them have designed an app. We had a team that designed an app to create springing guardianships for the children of undocumented immigrants. We had another team that had a fully fleshed out business plan for other stuff. It’s so cool and inspiring to watch lawyers get shit done in the way only they can when you ask them to focus on one thing.
That was true for moving their businesses forward as well as hacking on those problems, some of which we’ve seen advance from the last one. I know there was a team that decided they wanted to do airport law and now they have a kiosk at their city airport and they’re getting ready to do this project. I don’t want to reveal too much because now it’s their thing and I want to see them do it and then report back. Maybe we’ll have them on the podcast to talk about it.
Aaron Street: Yeah, it’s really exciting that in addition to the normal networking that maybe happens at a regular conference or some cool ideas you get, this group of people actually built shit over the course of two days. There are tangible outcomes from the event in addition to amazing connections and ideas and things.
Sam Glover: We’ll be following up with them throughout the rest of … From now on and hoping to bring them back to move things forward again. We all stay in touch through a Slack community when we’re not at the conference and people can find accountability partners there. If you are interested in joining we would love to have you apply. We ask everyone to apply because part of the whole deal is we want to make sure that we’re getting the right mix of lawyers who get it, who understand what it means to invest in the future of your law practice, who have an entrepreneurial mindset and are realistic about the trends shaping the future of law practice. If you listen to this podcast you probably have a pretty good feel for what I mean.
If you’d like to go to TBD Law, go to lawyerist.com/tbdlaw, you can apply for the next meeting right now. I hope you do. I’d love to get flooded with applications and meet some of you next time around. Now let’s hear from Inti Martínez-Alemán, Megan Zavieh and Tom Martin.
Martínez-Alemán: Hi, my name is Inti Martínez-Alemán. I’m an attorney here in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was born and raised in Honduras and I went to college in western New York, then decided to move back from there to Honduras and I wanted to fulfill my Honduran dream of becoming an attorney there and providing some type of solid legal representation to people in need, good clients, serve their needs and so on, and help my country. It’s a very impoverished and very corrupt country in general. The government is very corrupt. I wanted to make a difference in my country so I went back and I was there, planned through law school and everything was going really well.
However there was a climb in deaths of attorneys, assassinations against attorneys. The rates of assassinations went incredibly high around 2009, 2008. My late mother suffered a first assassination attempt, she was also an attorney. She survived thankfully that first attack and then we continued doing the good work that we were doing. In Honduras it’s very uncommon for people to investigate crimes in general, let alone a high profile crime. The impunity rates have been around 96%. There’s only a 4% chance that you can be ever convicted of any crime. Sadly there was never a solid investigation about that.
I continued working and doing good work as an attorney. One of my largest clients was the Honduran government working in the presidential palace as legal advisor to the chief of staff. It was very positive of a Honduran dream, I was fulfilling my Honduran dream, things were going very well besides the fact that many of my colleagues were getting killed left and right. It had touched home but we were confident that that wouldn’t happen again. Unfortunately it did happen and in 2011, my mother was assassinated. That really put some sense into me and made me realize that I should reconsider my commitment to this Honduran dream of making some change in Honduras and being a good advocate for clients fighting a system of injustice.
I took a year off, I went back to my alma mater, Houghton College in western New York, and I taught college for a year, taught poly sci. That was more of a sabbatical year. My law firm was still operating and I conferenced in with providing legal services still remotely. That was great, it was a great year of recovery from all the death that had happened in my family. Not only my mother was killed in that instant but also her legal assistant and driver. It was really very nerve wracking. That year was very helpful because then I realized that it was time that I needed to actually leave for Honduras for good.
I returned that summer of 2013, back to Honduras, in order to reassess the situation if there was an opportunity to work lower profile. That didn’t work so I decided to pack my bags and leave Honduras for good and that was around August of 2013. I applied for political asylum and once I talked to my sister, who is an immigration attorney, another immigration attorney, they said, “Yes, you actually can qualify and you have a very good case for this.” With 180 of my colleagues having been killed since 2004, there’s a high chance that you can be next and knowing that you have that nexus with your mother working at the same cases and law firm and publicly recognized as partners.
I applied for asylum, I also applied for law school. I did not want to go back to law school but the more I talked to people the more I realized I needed to do that because that’s my vocation. I have that calling to serve as an attorney, serve as an advocate in the legal field and be some type of agent of change and reconciliation. I’m trying to understand what that means but I feel I have that calling. Things are going well on that end.
I applied to 22 law schools, I took the LSATs, and applied to a JD program, LLM program, a masters of law program was very tempting because it’s a one-year program versus a three-year JD. It was too restrictive, only two or three states accept it in order to pass the bar and then you won’t necessarily be employed. I decided to apply for JD. I was budgeting for three years of hell and thankfully though Hamlin University School of Law, now Mitchell Hamlin School of Law, offered me a very attractive financial aid package here in Minnesota. I had some very good ties with Minnesota so that helped too. I had many friends, my sisters happened to have studied here, and one was still reciting here. I was like, “Wow, that’s a good fit.” Additionally, Hamlin provided me credit, gave me credit for one year of my schooling in Honduras. My three-year JD was done in two years thankfully. It felt like two decades or two minutes underwater but still I was done with this and thankfully graduated with a JD in May 2016.
By that point I had considered becoming either … Working at big law or a medium-sized firm and I also had considered doing a solo practice. The best fit at that point upon graduation was definitely working on my own and starting my own law firm. I heard about this program called Collaborative Community Law Initiative here in Minnesota, it’s an incubator program that provides new attorneys with office space and some admin support and some practice management software, pipeline of clients and a panel of mentors. I’m like, “That’s basically working in big law but with more freedom because you’re your own boss, having freedom of clients, freedom of schedule, freedom of fees.” That’s basically putting me in the same position that I was in Honduras but here in the US. It’s a good fit.
I applied for the program and started upon bar passage thankfully I started my own law firm this past fall, fall 2016, and in three months and a week that I’ve been practicing law things are going really well. I’m focusing my practice and it’s a low bono practice focused on the Latino population. I serve Latinos here in Minnesota in their civil matters. Strictly civil, that’s what I do, and it’s very broad practice. Thankfully I have a very robust panel of mentors and when I have an employment case or landlord-tenant, family, immigration and so on I can always resort to calling or emailing a colleague of mine who has vast experience. I’m able to do this very dated practice at the moment.
I think in a couple of years I see myself either narrowing it to a field or two or keeping it as light as it is now but either hire associates or partner with other people so we can remain serving Latinos here in Minnesota with a low bono fee, representation but with a broad civil law representation. That’s where I see myself working.
Other attorneys who work in big law firms or even medium-sized law firms are very skeptical. They’re optimistic in a sense you’re doing good work but it’s more like a pat on the head. You’re a little boy, you don’t know what you’re doing. At the same time they are very skeptical if I will be making money. So far it’s going really well. I’ve met and even exceeded my income expectations even though I’m just doing low bono, charging 40% to 50% of market rates. Things are going well, I can’t complain about that, and I see my practice growing.
Megan Zavieh: I’m Megan Zavieh and I’m a lawyer for lawyers. I represent other lawyers in ethics and disciplinary action primarily in California. Talking about how I’ve gotten to where I am today and the challenges I face, you have to go back a little ways with me because when I came into law school I was 18-years-old and my idea at the time was I wanted to be a psychiatrist working with lawyers. That’s because I had had a peek as a child into the world of the solo lawyer and the pressures they face and a lot of the mental health issues that came with that. I went to law school thinking that I was going to medical school afterwards.
As it turned out I moved to New York from California for my first job as a lawyer and I discovered that even though I could still go on that path I actually really liked practicing law. I went the whole big firm route and I did that for about nine years and I was on the partnership track. Along the way I realized I had lost sight of my idea of working with other lawyers and helping those who had really fallen down under the pressures of practice.
In 2007, we had our first child in New Jersey where we were living and I was still in that partnership mode, went back to work after she was born and after started to come together for me that this was no longer the path I wanted. For me and my story of how I went from big firm partnership track to solo lawyer helping other lawyers, the two big factors are moves and kids. With me those are completely tied together.
After our first child was born and I wasn’t enjoying the partnership track anymore, I’m finding that the sacrifices that are simply required by the profession to get to that pinnacle of partnership in big law were no longer compatible with what I wanted in my real life. My husband is a CPA and he worked for Ernst & Young in New York and they offered him a position in California. We thought that would be a great idea because we could move back near our families, I could step back off of partnership track but stay with my firm and that’s what we did. We packed up and moved from New Jersey to California, and I worked for about a year as an hourly employee of my firm. My ideal at the time was I’ll do this for a few years, my child will grow up and get to the point of at least being school age and I’ll go back to associate life and partnership track.
The universe had other things in mind I suppose you could say because that was 2008, and the economy started to tank and I was pregnant again. I had my second child in California and although the big move was New Jersey to California there were multiple small moves in the state of California as well. We had our second daughter and my firm said, “Why don’t you stay on maternity leave a little longer, and a little longer and a little longer than that?” As it turned out the associates in the firm really couldn’t be kept busy with the work that was coming in because of the economy problems. When the full-time salaried associates aren’t busy the hourly people who take the overflow work are really not going to be busy. Eventually the firm just let all of the hourly people go. Here I was suddenly my plan totally changed. I thought I was going to go back to being an associate, instead I didn’t have a job at all.
The good thing was that the idea of helping other lawyers had never gone away for me and that peek I had as a child into the world of the solo stressed out unable to cope lawyer really opened wide in this time. By this time I was 30, and I was finally able to help a couple of lawyers that I knew who were facing disciplinary action in California. It was the work that when you’re employed by a big firm they don’t really want you doing. Your hands are tied, you’re supposed to only work for firm clients and when family or friends need you there’s only so much you can do. Here the door had opened for me to be able to jump in and really get involved in that world because there was no longer an employer holding me back.
I did some of that work just for family and friends who needed my help, not for pay but for the ability to help, and I really got hooked on the work. It was like my pieces had all come together and I could finally do this. I was doing it off the cuff with no established firm, I didn’t have a firm name, I didn’t really have an office, I was working from a desk in our little rental house and learning as I went and trying to feel my way through the system. As this started to get some traction I realized, wow, I would really love to do this on a bigger more full-scale basis and maybe this is where my career should take me.
My husband literally came in the door one night and said to me, “Would you move to Australia?” I just looked at him like, what, come again? He said, “I have an interview tonight with EY in Australia.” It was out of the blue, he had long ago put in Ernst & Young’s system somewhere that he would be interested in international assignment if one ever came up and he works in a very specialized area of tax, the research and development tax credits, which does exist in other parts of the world, but we never really thought that it would be something that would give rise to an international assignment but lo and behold it did. Given that opportunity we thought we just have to take this. Who gets to move to Australia and on the company dime?
We took it and we moved to Sydney and a few weeks later discovered we were expecting another child. It was in Australia that I decided to launch my practice full scale. I built a website and I came up with a firm name and I started advertising and trying to work in California still but now from Sydney. I was doing it with a crazy time difference. I was taking court conference calls in the middle of the night in my pajamas on the floor in a quiet corner of the house hoping not to wake up two small children and just trying to get some traction with the whole thing because it was like all of these stars had aligned and this is really what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to let the move stop me from doing it.
I have to say that I got a lot of concessions from state bar staff and state bar counsel because I was working exclusively with the California State Bar and they had gotten to know me over the past few years and they were very flexible with me when they would say, “This conference is scheduled for 11:00 AM.”
I would say, “Understand please that that’s 3:00 AM,” or whatever crazy time for me in Australia and they worked with me and I was able to get it moving.
My biggest hurdle at that point was talking to clients. I would also take their calls in the middle of the night but people didn’t understand what in the world are you doing in Australia if they figured it out or can I come drop this off at your office. No, you really can’t. My office is a small house in Forestville, New South Wales, Australia. I turned off some clients that way but I also learned to discuss it in a way that helped smooth clients’ anxiety and I learned how a virtual practice gets over that hump with people. I also had the benefit … The practice has evolved a lot. If you take 2007 to 2017, how much more accepting the whole legal world is of people working online from remote locations, people not meeting each other maybe ever in person during a representation or at least not until a trial or other court experience.
We weren’t in Australia all that long, about a year-and-a-half, I had gotten things up and running, I actually had a dedicated space where I was working and some decent normal working hours. I was offering consultations at set times, things were starting to get smoother. The Australian government changed a tax law which impacted expats living there, it was a law that had been in effect for 40 years and many expats depended upon it. Briefly it allowed you to pay your rent and your food pre-tax and that made a difference of about $2,000 a month in actual take home pay for our family. When that was changed it was changed very suddenly and with no grandfather period. A great many people ended up having to go home and we were among them. Here we were all of the sudden thinking things were smooth and no, not so much.
My husband got another job with KPMG this time, he had a big promotion, it was a great opportunity, and we decided this was a thing to do and we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. We had never set foot in Georgia when we took this job and the moves were really tough on our family. By this time our daughters were 6 and almost 3, and my son was about 8 months old. It was at a point in our family’s growth where we knew we couldn’t keep moving around. We have an adventuresome spirit, my husband and me, and we don’t mind up and moving and going to the far corners of the earth, but it was really tough on the kids and in particular our oldest. When we first went to Australia she had just turned 4 and we couldn’t believe how difficult it was for her. We knew the next move needed to be semi-permanent.
Here we were, landing in Atlanta, Georgia, with no idea what to expect because we had never been here, but with a commitment to our family that we weren’t going to move again. Thankfully Georgia was one of the few places I could waive in as an attorney because there was no way I was [inaudible 00:27:20] bar exam, by then I had already taken three. Here I was already getting going with this practice I had been building in Australia and I thought at least I only have a three-hour time difference to California now.
We launched it despite living without furniture for a couple of months and living in various temporary housing situations. We got it going with the Georgia address and the work continuing pretty seamlessly. It was just on a roll by that point. Even though I was working in a built-in desk in a hallway in an apartment and at times in my mom’s house in a spare bedroom because I couldn’t get all the way back to my apartment during the day with school schedules, we just kept it going. It was actually where we’ve finally been able to build in the support that was needed for my practice to really grow.
As I mentioned, my mom is now here in Georgia. She started building pieces of my practice that I needed for infrastructure and my husband was around a lot more so he was able to start contributing his expertise on the finance side and my dad then moved here and he works with me as a paralegal. I finally had all these pieces together and by this point it had taken about five years but I was able to really get everything going. I had writing as a regular part of my practice, I had consultations happening more regularly and all of the pieces that I think people think you must start with on day one, five years later they were there for my practice.
Where I am now … I’m sorry, there’s another baby I didn’t mentioned. We got to Atlanta and about a year later we had another one. He’s our last. Stop number four and baby number four. Here I got a little waylaid again I suppose by my fam because he of course required certain things as he hit toddlerhood with each of our births I really wasn’t waylaid until about 18 months with each of them because they were all very easy to still work when they were around as babies. Once they started getting really into everything hindered me. Last year I ended up with all children in school for a solid day and my practice was able to grow into something I actually can do in normal business hours, not so much middle of the night work. It still happens because I don’t get full eight-hour day in, but I can actually work something of a normal schedule.
What I’m growing now is actually really exciting because maybe it’s the challenges I’ve been through in growing it and the devotion to helping lawyers as best I can, but I’ve gotten resources from all kinds of places, including through Lawyerist and the people that I’ve met there and TBD Law, Lawyerist’s conference, where I’ve met a lot of amazing people. I’m now building a whole practice around the idea that I can help lawyers in any situation anywhere they are in the process of needing help. I am building systems where I can give people the tools they need when they’re starting their practice to make sure they’re giving themselves the best footing possible to avoid being in ethics trouble and building tools for the lawyers who receive letters of investigation and need to respond properly but maybe can’t afford counsel to do it for them. I’m building systems where the lawyers who can afford to hire someone to do it for them can just dump a file on my server and I can prepare those responses for them. Of course I’m still representing lawyers in state bar court as well in California.
It’s really exciting where it’s all come to and where I see it going as it continues to grow. I’m not moving again and I’m not having any more babies. We’re good there. I think that’s about it.
Sam Glover: This podcast is supported by Ruby Receptionists. As a matter of fact, Ruby answers our phones at Lawyerist and my firm was a paying Ruby customer before that. Here’s what I love about Ruby, when I’m in the middle of something I hate to be interrupted, so when the phone rings it annoys me and that often carries over into the conversation I have after I pick up the phone, which is why I’m better off not answering my own phone. Instead, Ruby answers the phone and if the person on the other end asks for me, a friendly cheerful receptionist from Ruby calls me and asks if I want them to put the call through. It’s the buffer that gives me a minute to let go of my annoyance and be a better human being during the call.
If you want to be a better human being on the phone, give Ruby a try. Go to callruby.com/lawyerist to sign up and Ruby will waive the $95 setup fee. If you aren’t happy with Ruby for any reason you can get your money back during your first three weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll stick around but since there’s no risk you might as well try.
Aaron Street: Most solo and small firm lawyers have had at least one truly miserable experience with a web designer or internet marketing company. If the idea of launching a new website for your law firm makes you queasy, our friends at Spotlight Branding get it. At Spotlight Branding they pride themselves in excellent communication with their clients, they are responsive, professional, respectful and deliver what they tell you they are going to deliver. Spotlight Branding works exclusively with solo and small law firms. Services include law firm website design, email newsletter management, social media marketing and more, all designed to make your law practice more profitable. Visit spotlightbranding.com/lawyerist to see how they can help your firm stand out from the crowd without the headaches.
Sam Glover: You’re racing against the clock to wrap up three client projects, prepping for a meeting later in the afternoon, all while trying to tackle a mountain of paperwork. Welcome to modern life as a small firm lawyer. The working world has changed, with the growth of the internet there’s never been more opportunities for the self-employed. To meet this need, FreshBooks is excited to announce the launch of an all new version of their cloud accounting software. It’s been redesigned from the ground up and custom built for exactly the way you work. Get ready for the simplest way to be more productive, organized and, most importantly, get paid quickly.
The all new FreshBooks is not only ridiculously easy to use, it’s also packed full of powerful features. Create and send professional looking invoices in less than 30 seconds, set up online payments with just a couple of clicks and get paid up to four days faster, see when your client has seen your invoice and put an end to the guessing games. FreshBooks is offering a 30-day unrestricted free trial to our listeners. To claim it just go to freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter “Lawyerist” in the how did you hear about us section.
Aaron Street: Tom Martin.
Tom Martin: I’m in a pretty good place now, I’m living in Vancouver with my wife and two girls, and the practice is going great. I’m in a good place supporting my family. I’m doing quite a few things juggling those around. Half of my practice is probate, the other half is giving legal advice on the phone in connection with this relationship I have with ARAG Legal Insurance in fielding 40 to 60 calls a day, not on my own but I have three lawyers to help me and I manage them online with a type of virtual practice that I’ve set up. The probate cases I don’t even have to appear in court, which is good since I’m in Vancouver, I can appear by phone in California in any of the counties that we have cases filed in so that’s neat. Everything is working.
There was a time though when things weren’t working this well. It helps me to appreciate that things are in a good place now but I first started my practice about 10 years ago and got inspiration from my parents. My mom, she worked for Cal State LA for about 20 years as a secretary and then she finished her 20 years and worked as a district manager for Avon. She’s a natural, she was a natural, salesperson and she managed those Avon ladies so that she became the best district manager in the country. That was my example growing up from her. My dad is a barber, for close to 50 years now he’s been a barber working six days a week and he still does at the age of 82. They helped me to get started with my firm. They gave me some money that allowed me to launch my firm about 10 years ago and it was a scrappy start like it was I think for a lot of people that start their own firm. Hanging out your shingle, trying to get some clients, trying to figure out what you’re doing. It was a rocky start.
I did grow a relationship with LegalZoom so that was a big win for me in about late 2008 and 2009, 2010, 2011. It went really well and things picked up. We were doing prenuptial agreements with LegalZoom, it was this pioneering program where they were doing the marketing, we were doing the servicing of prenuptial agreements. I was managing over a dozen lawyers across the country to do prenuptial agreements. At the time it was something really hadn’t been done in that way, having a virtual practice and servicing so many clients. That was great.
Then in 2012, actually it’s going to be five years tomorrow, my mom passed away. She had been living with congestive heart failure and I have to admit that it was something that … It shouldn’t have been a shock to me. Of course it’s going to be a shock to anyone but she would get sick, she would get fluid in her lungs because of the congestive heart failure, and she would go to the hospital and she would get better and they would treat her, and she would come out and she’d feel great and she’d talk to me about how good she felt. This pattern kept happening over and over again so that I got used to it. You never think that you’re going to be without your parents. Then I lost her on February 8, 2012. It was a real shock to me as of course it is to anyone.
I think my professional life took a hit as well. Things didn’t go as well with the business the way it had been. I ended up at the end of that year really carrying the staff that I had. At that point I had over the dozen lawyers that I had been working with across the country plus I had my own staff in my office of a couple lawyers and two or three paralegals and assistants. I had been using my savings the last couple of months to carry the payroll. As anyone knows that’s a big mistake, that’s not sustainable. It came to the point where I just couldn’t do it and I had to let everyone, except myself of course and one paralegal, go. It was really hard to do. I knew these people were relying on me and I just didn’t have another choice at that point. If I was going to keep the business I had put together going to support my family and I made that hard decision to let everyone go. Really struggled for a while to try to figure out what the next step was going to be.
I think the key to it’s time was you meet people. You have these relationships that you sincerely built just because you like people and you keep in touch and you talk about silly stuff and you never really have much in terms of expectations. I got a phone call from this guy Will Peterson that I had met through ARAG, he’s an executive there, and he had mentioned that they’re looking to replace the lawyer that they had in southern California who had been doing some phone calls for their plan. He said I could put in a proposal and the whole bunch … There’s other people vying for that.
I had never done a proposal, I had no idea what I was doing, but I put something together that I thought would make sense and threw my hat in the ring for that. I got picked along with somebody for northern California, they split California in two, and that agreement, that business relationship, was really the foundation for me being able to pull myself up by the bootstraps again. We started dealing with this phone call volume and it was nuts at the beginning trying to figure out how to deal with it and I got some other lawyers to help me.
Then when things started to go well again my mother-in-law, who lives in Vancouver, she started not doing so well. Fortunately we were in a place where we could make the move from Long Beach, California, all the way to Vancouver. My daughters, Julie and Maya, were young enough at the time that making that transition was all right. Maya, she was just starting grade school, and Julia was just about to end grade school and they’re five years apart. We made that trip, it was a long road trip, up to Vancouver with all of our stuff and our hopes that things would work out in Vancouver.
The great part is that we got to be with family. We got to be with my mother-in-law, she developed cancer and it was pretty aggressive. My wife, Miriam, she was lucky to be able to spend that time with her mom. The way things worked out on the business side I was able to do it from anywhere. It was a big very lucky break that I could do it from anywhere. I was able to support my girls and Miriam through what her mom was going through. We lost her on Valentine’s Day last year.
That’s what I’ve been going through with my family and I know everyone probably has similar stories with their families and trying to balance the difficulties of life along with trying to run a business and trying to keep … The ultimate point of running a business is to support your family and to take care of the ones you love. I think that, going back to where I am now, I think it’s been a success so far.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit lawyerist.com/podcast or legaltalknetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcasts are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and you can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.
Notify me when there’s a new episode!
|Published:||March 8, 2017|
The Lawyerist Podcast is a weekly show about lawyering and law practice hosted by Sam Glover and Aaron Street.
Jonathan Hawkins gives his tips on how to transition out of your practice, whether you are squashed by an anvil out of the blue...
Annie Grace explains how to think about your relationship with alcohol and why moderation is harder than just drinking or not drinking.
Marshall Lichty talks about being a lawyer with ADHD.
Stephanie Everrett talks with Lawyerist Lab member Jennifer Longtin about the strategy they developed to help Jennifer take charge of her firm finances.
Nathan Hightower discusses Culture Index and why too much distance between your core traits and the behaviors required to do your job well might...
Daniel Pink discusses the science of timing and productivity, the subject of his latest book, When, and also compensation and motivation, the subject of...